Awareness of this unique folk-art is widespread, however it's name and subsequent spelling varies greatly (Whirligig, Whirlygig, Whirlijig, Whirlyjig, Whirlybird, Windmill, Wind Mill, Weathervane or just Whirly). It is very common to hear the name "Whirligig" pronounced as "Whirlyjig".
Whatever you want to call them, know them as, or how you spell it, they are "Old Fashion wooden handmade, wind driven mechanical action figures". We at Serenity Gardens are pleased to be a part of preserving an American folk-art, the Whirligig. Our design's replicate those of the period, using the same construction methods and technique.
According to Webster, a whirligig is a "child's toy that is whirled round."
In common usage however, they are mechanical windmills. Simply put, it is a weathervane that does something other than rotate into a position that will indicate the wind direction.
A whirligig is a working or playing figure mounted on a chassis and powered by a wind driven propeller. The whole assembly turns into the wind to pick up the slightest breeze, just like a weathervane. In addition the wind velocity can be gauged by the relative briskness in movement of the associated figure.
There is a long history and evolution behind whirligigs but let's start with the United States story.
All sorts of contraptions were used to find wind speed and direction. This was once very important in predicting weather.
Of course during the long winter months, creativity went to work. During the mid to late 1800's, a new type of "weathervane" appeared in the Appalachians. It was called a whirligig and a new American folk-art was born. Unfortunately, very few of the early whirligigs remain. They were (and sometimes still are!) made from scrap with little attention given to making them weatherproof. You could always make a new one during idle winter months!
Whirligigs regained popularity during in the 1930's as a way for farmers to make extra money so needed during the Great Depression. Now that we all are interested in our heritage, whirligigs are reappearing on deck rails, roof peaks, chimneys, boat docks, fence posts, mail boxes, doghouses and, even, on coffee tables as conversation pieces.